Each stop on the World Poker Tour is defined by certain unique distinguishing characteristics, based on the locale, the history it’s built up on tour or one of a hundred other aspects that set it apart from all the rest.
In the case of Bay 101 and its signature WPT Event, the Shooting Star Classic, almost every element of the tournament and the surrounding experience is unlike anything else you’re likely to find in poker. With bounties on more than 50 players, anyone who enters or satellites into the field is guaranteed to play with one of poker’s big time stars while getting an extra incentive of $2,500 cash if they’re fortunate enough to bust that designated player.
The Bay 101 faithful – those who play in the room during the rest of the year without the bright lights of the WPT shining upon them – always show up in force to support the tournament in one of two big ways. First and foremost, they form a rail as deep as any poker tournament in the world you’re likely to see outside the late stages of the WSOP Main Event.
“We have the best fans in the world for poker,” said WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage, who got his start at Bay 101 and maintains strong ties to the area to this day. “It’s something that’s hard to understand sometimes. These guys have photos, and chips, and cards, things I’ve never seen before for these pros to sign. The kind of tournament that it is, with the Shooting Stars, it has all these players coming into town – and the poker fans in San Jose really respond in showing up in numbers and staying for all of the long hours.”
Quite a few of them actually get a chance to play with those giants of poker thanks to numerous satellites that run in the weeks and months that lead up to the event. Enter Ron Lewis, a familiar face to those who play at Bay 101 Casino year-round, who took advantage of that robust schedule of satellites to win his way into the 2015 Bay 101 Shooting Star Classic.
“This is the first time that I actually decided that I’d go ahead and get in the Shooting Star [Classic] because I’ve never done it before,” I’d thought about it, but this year I really wanted to do it. I actually won two satellites, I had 2 seats. I ended up actually going from the single table, $430 to win a $7,500 seat two times.”
Lewis hadn’t played many major tournaments, but in limited action he’s managed a title in a style of poker that’s a bit of a rarity on the tournament circuit these days.
“Bay 101 has a thing during the summertime,” said Lewis, “I’ve won a Partners tournament. That was a lot of fun because at the final table, I ended up just basically running everybody over.”
While Ali Mohammadi was by his side in winning a $10,320 champion’s share, Lewis was on his own going into the Bay 101 Shooting Star. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and it came in his own backyard. Lewis’ profession of choice also helped shape abilities that come in very handy at a poker table.
“I’m actually from this area and I have my own dental lab, my own business,” said Lewis, “And I’m very good with my hands. I look at very precise types of things, and that’s why when I look at somebody I can see stuff; just small little things that do it.”
Attention to detail seemingly paid off for Lewis on Day 1B, as he ended the night among the top 10 stacks.
“I’ve got to tell you, it was really fun looking at the players, getting what I could from them and chipping up,” said Lewis. “I actually had some really great hints [I picked up] that helped me chip up a lot, and you have to do that. It’s all utility – one has to be able to fire out more bullets, and once you have [chips] then you can play lots of ways.”
Things kept rolling along on Day 2, and Lewis more than held his own with some of the world’s best. He even earned one of the $2,500 Shooting Star bounties, getting the better end of a coinflip as his pocket queens held off Mohsin Charania’s ace-king. As the field grew thinner and thinner Lewis kept picking up chips, and it was clear that he was truly enjoying himself at the table.
“My experience in doing this for the first time was just a pleasure because I got to see a lot of pros and I had fun with them all,” said Lewis. “Some guys are [more] serious than any others and that’s okay. That’s just the way they are.”
On Day 3 there was a rapid wave of eliminations from the very start, as 36 was whittled down to just 10 by the time the dinner break rolled around. Lewis needed one fortunate turn card to double through Isaac Baron with A J against K K, but that hand kicked off a further display of his fun-loving nature and talkative nature.
“I know that some people have told me that when I talk, it’s a tell,” said Lewis. “The fact of the matter is that I talk whether or not I have a good hand, or bad hand, or anything. I like to keep my table with life in it because sometimes you get poker players that are just so stoic – no emotion, nothing in it. I like life and I’m full of life myself. Whenever I’m at a table I make sure that there’s life.”
Lewis hit his high point in knocking out Quan Tran with pocket aces, reducing the field to its final nine players. It reduced his table to four players, and it was around that time that two circumstances conspired to slow things down – the deepness of the stacks, and the prospect of a WPT final table being just three eliminations away.
“What’s truly interesting, I’ve got to tell you, what blew me away was that I knocked out the number 10 guy and then we played for four and a half hours,” recalled Lewis.
That Lewis was able to hold his own against the likes of strong and experienced players like Baron and Jake Bazeley for so long in a four-handed scenario, one that’s not very common in tournament poker even when you get deep, is an indication of how hard he fought to make the Bay 101 final table.It came down to another confrontation with Baron. On a board of A 3 3, Baron set Lewis all in for a pot-sized bet of about 400,000. After considering his options, Lewis eventually found a call with K K and found Baron on a draw with T 8. His chances of doubling further improved on the 4, but the Q river made Baron’s flush and ended Lewis’ run in ninth place for $67,320.
“The thing with that ace-high board, I knew he didn’t an ace. I knew he was on a draw,” said Lewis. “[But] I had to sit there for a while. Let’s just put it this way – I had a tell on the guy and I knew that he did not have an ace. Otherwise, I would have tossed it. If I had more utility, I would toss, but I was getting short. I thought at that moment that he was on a draw, whether it was a straight draw or flush draw, I had put him more on a flush draw than a straight draw. He checked and I made a big raise and he went all in and then I’m going, ‘Well, this is it’.”
A bittersweet moment got even tougher as two other players went out within 20 minutes of Lewis’ exit.
“When I got knocked out four and a half hours later after [getting nine-handed], going in with the best hand, two guys got knocked out within 15 minutes,” said Lewis. “I’m just crushed with the idea that I played so damn well [and got that close]. I was right at the front door and knocking on it. I’m happy [with how I played it]. Maybe I should have checked the turn to see if a flush card came out, and if it came, I could get away from it, or I could go all in because with one card left, my odds are greater.”
All in all Lewis was happy with the way he played that hand and the tournament in general, and he was interested enough in the conclusion to come back the following day as part of the Bay 101 faithful in the crowd at the final table. Other local players were full of praise and light condolences for Lewis’ run, with more than half a dozen players coming up to him during his interview with BLUFF alone.
While he enjoyed his time in the tournament and happily joined the crowd, Lewis couldn’t help but reflect once more on how dialed in he was during the tournament – though he had already gained some perspective about how strong a performance he’d put together.
“Playing with guys like Isaac [Baron],” said Lewis. “I was at the same table with him when we got down to 10 players. I knew how he was playing, what he was doing. I was so deep in focus. But playing with these pros, it’s been a total pleasure.”
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